All posts filed under: Review

Progressive Creationism: A Review of ‘A Dangerous Idea’

In a recent article for Quillette, Colin Wright argued that left-wing scientific denialism poses a greater threat to academic freedom than right-wing scientific denialism. In the past, evolutionary biologists could dispute the claims of creationists and advocates of Intelligent Design without jeopardizing their careers. But the same cannot be said of scientists who publicly dissent from progressive dogma when it comes to, say, the biology of group differences. The reason, according to Wright, is because the Christian Evangelicals who denied the basic principles of evolutionary biology held no power in academia, while their secular equivalents are often professors, department chairs, deans, administrators, college presidents, journal editors, and so on. Indeed, the new denialist orthodoxy when it comes to biological sex—that it is “assigned” at birth, rather than observed and recorded—is now the official view of the scientific establishment, having been embraced by Scientific American and Nature. As Jordan Peterson wrote in The National Post two years ago: “Look out evolutionary biologists. The PC police are coming for you.” I imagine few of Quillette’s readers will …

The Divided Kingdom

A Review of  National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, Pelican (October 25, 2018), 336 pages. While reading National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, I got the impression authors Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin were betting men. They point out—in the first few pages—had you bet £100 on Leave winning the 2016 Referendum on the day of the vote, June 23, you’d have won £300 in the morning and £900 in the evening. That betting markets tacked against Leave during the course of polling gives one a sense of the groupthink among much of the UK’s commentariat—something Goodwin, in particular, doesn’t share, even though he voted Remain. I suppose I should confess to being a betting woman. The day before Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered, I put AUD$100 on Leave. After her murder, however, I changed my mind. Like some of the pollsters, I thought a single, terrible event would change the course of an entire political campaign, something that’s actually quite rare—although I didn’t know it …

Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments—A Review

A review of Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen. Stripe Press (October 2018), 160 pages. The complexity of the modern world makes it difficult to know what’s worth caring about. We all know that many problems exist, but none of us know for certain which problems are over-exaggerated, which ones are under-exaggerated, which ones admit of solutions, and which ones would only be exacerbated by our meddling. To make matters worse, the increasing partisanship of mainstream media along with the echo chamber effects of social media throws doubt on the notion that information reaches our minds free of slant, spin, or skew. Onto this landscape of paralyzing uncertainty strides the economist Tyler Cowen with a bold solution. As he argues in his new book Stubborn Attachments, there is one goal we should promote above all else: maximizing the sustainable rate of economic growth. Of course, you’re free to care about other societal issues if it makes you happy. But from the point of view of increasing human well-being, …

The One-Sided Worldview of Hans Rosling

A review of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. Flatiron Books (April 2018) 352 pages.  Charisma and upbeat messages about global trends made the late Hans Rosling (1948–2017), professor at Karolinska Institute in Sweden, an international TEDTalk-star, listed among TIME Magazine´s “The World´s 100 Most Influential People” already in 2012. The posthumous book, Factfulness written with his son and daughter-in-law is now becoming a global bestseller. Bill Gates promises to hand it out to all US university graduates. Nature is full of praise: “This magnificent book ends with a plea for a factual world view. …Like his famous presentations, it throws down a gauntlet to doom-and-gloomers in global health by challenging preconceptions and misconceptions.” In Sweden, The Nobel Prize Foundation has teamed up with the Rosling family, announcing that it will “light up Stockholm every spring, in connection with the arrival of the light, with a new public education day in memory of Hans Rosling.”1 Unfortunately, Factfulness …

Charlie Kirk’s Campus Battlefield—A Review

A review of Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle of Ideas on Campus and Why It Matters by Charlie Kirk. Post Hill Press (October 2018), 160 pages. Charlie Kirk, founder and CEO of Turning Point USA, campus court jester, and pro-Trump parvenu, has written a new book, Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters. As evinced by the title, Kirk purports to expose how colleges have become “leftist echo chambers” and explain what conservatives can do about it. It is a bad book, both in style and substance, failing as much on its own terms as any others. It’s not a book I expect too many to read, either, being a less-than-average offering in the already oversaturated, worse-than-average genre of nonfiction punditry. Nevertheless, I do consider it a relatively useful book, at least insofar as what it augurs for conservatism, at present and going forward. Like it or not (and, I’ll disclose upfront, I do not), Charlie Kirk is a rising star within the GOP and American conservatism …

The Souls of Yellow Folk—A Review

A review of The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang. W. W. Norton & Company (November 2018), 256 pages. Wesley Yang’s longform essay “The Face of Seung-Hui Cho” was first published in the small magazine n+1 in the early months of 2008. At the time Yang, who was in his early 30s, seemed to be a typical young New York writer. He had published an assortment of short pieces, mostly about books, for places like New York, Salon, and the New York Observer. He wasn’t a “name” yet, but he was well-known enough that one of the editors of n+1 thought of him when they were looking for someone to write about Cho, the Korean-American student who’d killed 32 people and wounded 17 during his shooting rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech. “I resented the implication of his request,” writes Yang in the introduction to his new collection of essays, The Souls of Yellow Folk. “The implication was that there was something about that episode that would be particularly salient to me. …The implication was …

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System, by Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages).  In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals. Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that …

Germaine Greer’s ‘On Rape’—A Review

A review of On Rape by Germaine Greer. Bloomsbury Publishing (September 2018) 92 pages. Germaine Greer’s On Rape is roughly the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter story. And why not? As it happens, The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck also says a great deal of what young people need to know about the topic: beware of polite, well-dressed gentlemen (especially if they have foxy whiskers and black prick ears); don’t go uncritically into dismal summerhouses in the woods; and accepting a dinner invitation does not imply consent to everything the polite gentlemen is looking for. Greer’s book is not as incisive as Potter’s and it is considerably more expensive. But that is not to say it is a complete waste of money. In some ways it fizzes along with ideas and raises lots of questions that others are frightened to ask. Why are we so afraid of the penis when a fist and a thumb can do more physical damage? Why do some women fantasise about being raped? Are sentences for rapists too long? Should rapists be compulsorily castrated? …

A Mania for All Seasons: The Continuing Importance of ‘The Devils of Loudun’

There are many people for whom hate and rage pay a higher dividend of immediate satisfaction than love. Congenitally aggressive, they soon become adrenalin addicts, deliberately indulging their ugliest passions for the sake of the ‘kick’…Knowing that one self-assertion always ends by evoking other and hostile self-assertions, they sedulously cultivate their truculence…Adrenalin addiction is rationalized as Righteous Indignation and finally, like the prophet Jonah, they are convinced, unshakably, that they do well to be angry. These words first appeared in 1952, in the pages of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun. While many of Huxley’s works are better known and more widely read, there may be no text, past or present, more relevant to our turbulent era than this account of a seventeenth century witch trial. Huxley composed this passage to shed light on the mind of a thoroughly unlikeable individual by the name and title of Father Urban Grandier, in particular. But he also offered it as a more general analysis of the mindset afflicting those who burned Grandier to death—with the approval of …

An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt—A Review

A review of An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt by Pascal Bruckner. Polity (November 2018), 204 pages. It is embarrassingly easy to write about the collapse of the Left in the twenty-first century. The explosion in identity politics that has led to the automatic use of “white” as an ethnic insult in condemnations such as “white privilege” and “white, straight men” has made race as defining a factor in left-wing politics as it is in extreme right-wing politics. Meanwhile, the willingness to excuse antisemitsm, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western, has called into question whether leftists—or at least the noisiest voices on the Left—have lost all connection to their better values. I have said as much many times, and in his new book the French political theorist Pascal Bruckner says it again. Bruckner once struck me as the best the French intelligentsia had to offer. In 2007, he provoked an intellectual scandal with the “Racism of the Anti-Racists”, an essay for Sign and Sight, in which he excoriated liberals who denied Ayaan Hirsi Ali …